As I plan out this new blog project and lay down the plan for January, 2022, the little things in my life continue to unfold to reassure me of the absolute necessity of such a project. Let me humbly share one instance of learning that happened yesterday and how it relates to the big goals of this blog.
I'm a big girl. I can admit it when I'm wrong. I can take responsibilities.
First, a little background to help situate the scenario from yesterday. I'm Chinese. My husband is American. We have three children. My husband has always urged me to teach our kids Chinese. I never did, systematically. Before I gave up my academic career, I taught Chinese to college kids for 10 years, and never questioned my intention of teaching my own kids Chinese when I had them.
Well, I have had them for a while now, and have managed to NOT teach them all this time. This is topic for another post (or 10), and I will return to it at some point, but not today. About a week ago I decided that I was finally going to take action, and I started to teach them Chinese over breakfast, just one word a day. The first few days went swimmingly. The kids had lots of fun, I had lots of fun, everyone was happy. In a short week they can already make a fairly complicated sentence such as "I love eating yummy breakfast, and my mom does too."
The fun stopped on Christmas day, when we had visitors staying with us for 2 days. After our visitors left, when I attempted to resume our Chinese lesson yesterday, disaster struck.
In the previous week of instruction, the lessons had been carried out over breakfast, when my oldest was already out of the house (her school starts an hour before the other two's). I was teaching two younger children with two years of gap between them. I had managed adjusting to the learning levels pretty successfully. Yesterday, since the kids are out of school for the week, the oldest joined in the sessions, and although she missed most of the instructions over the course of last week's breakfasts, she was catching up in lightning speed, and soon became the dominant voice in the little class. This development disturbed the equilibrium of the learning haven, but I was woefully unaware of it, and started to charge ahead in alarming speed (but again, I didn't know I couldn't run that fast without falling on my face!). Soon afterwards, the learning moment occurred for me when we ground to a halt over the difference between "I drink water" and "I'm drinking water."
I asked my kids (well, my oldest) to negate these two sentences in Chinese, assuming that they know how to negate these in English. My reasoning was: if you know how to do it in English, and you know how to say these sentences in Chinese, then you must know how to negate these sentences in Chinese as well. Am I wrong? I couldn't be wrong. It's logical. It's so obvious. So I kept pushing them. In higher volume. I started yelling. I started insinuating insults. I became incredulous when they couldn't give me the right answers over and over again. My oldest started crying. My middle one threw up his hands and shrugged his shoulders.
At that precise moment my husband walked in from a long day of work. To prove myself right (how could I be wrong?) I told him what happened and assumed that he would obviously know that "I don't drink water" is not how you negate "I'm drinking water." Turns out that he was confused too, and he needed me to explain what I meant before he understood what I was saying.
Turns out that I was wrong. It was not simple. It was not obvious. I was wrong because I had studied and practiced the linguistic difference between "I drink water" and "I'm drinking water" for years and taught them to more mature minds, and I tried to impress upon younger minds such a difference that matters not a whit in their lives over casual breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and expected them to care enough to understand and appreciate the obviousness of it all, for my sake, for my convenience.
Like a tyrant I made a learning moment into a moment of violence (tears!), just because they were my kids and couldn't run away from the absurdity of it all.
So here is how it becomes relevant to my year of good project on this blog. For the month of January, before I committed the atrocities of violent teaching, I had planned to explore the topic of non-violence. Yesterday, through her tears and his shoulder shrug, my daughter and son taught me that in addition to the urgency, there's enormity to this task I have outlined for myself.
The gauntlet has been thrown. It is time for me to pick it up, "Challenge accepted!" This project is meant for the month of January, but it started way back, it continues every day, and it will last a lifetime. January will just give me a chance to have a long conversation with it, learn, grow, and hold the light.
One of the Christmas gifts for the kids was the Nintendo game "Just Dance." Learning to move can be so fun, without any violence.
Away from electronics, a 7yo and an almost 9yo play chess, flexing their mental muscles, learning and having fun. Again, no violence please!